I never thought of myself as an author. I’m directly related to three people that have either written professionally or do consider themselves to be authors. This is probably not a great endorsement to read my work.
“Come and read my stuff. I’m the fourth best author in my family!”
I’ve taken a crooked path to get to this point. Let’s rewind to 1998. I was a fresh-faced college graduate with a worthless degree in sociology, a mountain of student debt, and a torn ACL after four years of football. I was mowing lawns for a living. I didn’t know it at the time, but I was about to ride the biggest housing bubble the world had ever known in what would become the wealthiest area in the United States. Eight years later, my wife, Denise, and I were living in a 1.4-million-dollar estate on seven acres just thirty minutes outside of Washington, DC, but I was miserable.
I had started mowing lawns because I needed money, not because I enjoyed it. Even as the business blossomed into a full service landscape design and maintenance company, I was still doing it mostly for the money. I questioned the sustainability of the entire industry. What kind of person had I become? Was I making the world a better place, or was I just another materialistic fool with a McMansion? When I had an opportunity to sell my business and do what I really wanted to do with my life, I jumped at the chance.
I wanted to live a simple existence, grow my own food, live off the land, like Thoreau in Walden. After I sold my business, Denise and I moved to rural Pennsylvania. With my sudden surplus of time, I worked to turn our degraded six-acre hillside into a productive homestead. I was naive and had no practical skills. I had never even grown a tomato plant, much less butchered a chicken or kept bees. I went from skill to skill, project to project, failing and succeeding in varying degrees. I learned green building, beekeeping, organic gardening, animal husbandry, forestry, pond building, farming, and permaculture design. I photographed, videoed, and wrote about the trials and tribulations of homesteading on my blog, FoodProduction101.com.
My agrarian lifestyle afforded me idle time in the winter, so I started to write, for fun. I wrote for one reader, Denise, with no intention of publishing anything. That first winter, I wrote about our transition from the city to the countryside, from dependence to independence. I’m sure it was terrible, but Denise was kind enough to read it and to encourage me to write more.
The next winter I wrote my first serious work of fiction, Sheep among Wolves. A literary agent once told me that first novels are usually about the author working through their shit—that’s why those initial books are terrible. Sheep among Wolves was a seven-hundred-page behemoth. Given its length, you can imagine I had a lot of shit to work through. I remember thinking that I had written this masterpiece—well, maybe not a masterpiece—but I thought it was pretty good. I gave it to a couple friends to do a beta-read, … and the reviews were negative. I decided against publishing it, feeling as though my work wasn’t ready.
After my initial trials, I vowed to do better, to learn the craft. I was already an avid reader, which helped, but I started to pay attention to the subtleties of well-written fiction and nonfiction. I learned from books like Stephen King’s On Writing and The Elements of Style by Strunk and White. I especially learned from my editors, Gary and Caroline Smailes and Denise Barker of BubbleCow.
My first nonfiction piece, entitled Fire the Landscaper: How Landscapers, HOAs, and Cultural Norms Are Poisoning Our Properties, was a culmination of extensive research, my decade as a landscaper, my subsequent training as a permaculture consultant, and my personal battle with local code enforcement.
My second novel, Against the Grain, started as a thought experiment. I wondered what a kid would be like if he grew up outside of government schools and organized religion, with a logical and philosophical caregiver, one who challenged him to think for himself, to follow the truth wherever it took him. I wondered what would happen if I picked up this paragon of truth and dumped him into a public school, where everyone’s been subjected to culture, bias, and propaganda. What would happen? How would he react? Who would he piss off? Who would he get along with? Would he conform, or would he resist?
I dedicated my third novel, Stone Lake, to Denise. In that tale Morgan is a lot like my wife, and Morgan’s relationship with Jon reminds me of my marriage. The main characters’ story is fictional, but their pithy dialogue and deep feelings ring true for me. Morgan’s feelings of desperation and despair, coupled with Jon’s horrible luck, tug at my heartstrings, because I’ve been there before.
In all my books I endeavor to tell the truth, wrapped up in an engaging narrative. I hope my writing is of some benefit to you.
Fiction is the truth inside the lie.